Originally published on The Reykjavik Grapevine
I should probably begin by explaining the title to those of you who were born before the culture it came from. It's a reference to a slogan used by MTV in the 80s. If you love American culture you'd be considered a philistine not to look this up. Until today I felt like I was living (temporarily) in the most liberal modernised human country in the world. The rules seemed fair and were made out of a few of my favourite things like common sense, decency, and intelligence. They were administered by people of equal merit. I was impressed. Then I had a run in with Icelandic customs law. Olympus, a company I am an Ambassador for, sent me some equipment to try out. Despite following rules expressly given to me by local knowledge to label the shipments as for 'demonstration purposes only' and 'not for resale' and 'no commercial value' the goods were held by customs until a tariff of 78,000ISK was paid.
After quite a lot of talking on the phone to various intelligent friendly people, and several emails henceforth, I managed to get the tariff lowered by 18k and a temporary levy placed on the goods which meant I can get the money refunded once I exited the country. What, you guys don't take a cheque? Escrow? Faberge eggs? You see a credit card billing cycle is normally something like 30 days but this incident falls in the middle of mine, so I will be forced to pay this amount off before then or be charged interest. My only other option was to put it on my debit card and be charged 2.5% plus £1 and not have access to that money for a month. For all I can see this is at best a hostage situation to prevent the goods from staying in the country and selling at a lower price, at worst it is a song and dance. Please note that everyone in this experience was delightful to deal with.
I arrive at DHL to recover the goods and pay the tariff but the amounts on the invoices haven't been changed to reflect the new 'low' price of 60000ISK. My ride waits patiently for me as yet another nice human being helps to remedy this paperwork scramble. About 10 minutes later I am charging my English credit card, I am handed an E14 form in Icelandic (thankfully I have made friends with some locals for translation) and told that I can recuperate these funds at the airport when I leave Iceland. In a month. Bring the items for serial number verification please, thank you. I feel this pedantry concerning the importation of goods, large and small, to local or to foreigner, generate with every taxed kroner, a hostile feeling which feeds back into society.
These rules, and many more like them abroad, set up by our governments and businesses to regulate trade and labour alike, pave the way not only for more hostility and stress in a society but goad the very criminal behaviour in unruly citizens governments go to great lengths to prevent. I'm certain there are a lot of other effects which we could research, pull into focus groups, and draw out on graph paper and pie charts. But why should we? Most of us inherently sense the limitations to a restrictive system like this. Considering the government collected just over 6 billion ISK in 2014 on international trade, I wonder how much it costs to enforce this process, and really, how is it benefiting society given the restrictions and their impact on people? Because if it is then I can work the logic. But if it isn't, shouldn't it be criminal? I mull this over as I consider what life would be like living in Iceland full time; taking the bus to Elko in the blizzard to buy a television, to wile away winter's edge because I can't simply order one on Amazon and have it delivered.